Sunday, March 23, 2008

OneRoof swinging for the fence

OneRoof is a for-profit social enterprise that seeks to deliver 9 essential services in one franchised operation: Information Tech. and Communications, Financial Services, Education, Energy, Health, Clean Water, Sanitation, Agricultural Technologies, and Employment Generation.

I heard Jennifer Ellingson, a senior associate, give a presentation about OneRoof at BYU last November and was quite impressed. They currently operate 20 stores themselves in Mexico and India, having yet to sell franchises outright. I would consider them to still be in the testing phase of operations and launch although I believe they have raised a significant amount of money for their initial growth. I think the are finding very different challenges in Mexico and India which is modifying their model. Looking over their website it appears that they have been able to attract a very talented team which bodes well.

I like their model of being a broker of services as far as being a branded location that can be a point of distribution for a number of partners instead of providing all the services themselves. I have no sense of how well they are delivering on their mission, I have not seen them in the press much and their blog has not been updated since they secured their second round of funding. Their aim to function completely as a for-profit venture will make them an interesting case study in evaluating the feasibility of Gates' creative capitalism and Yunus' social business.

Regarding not knowing their current status: what do you think about transparency and reporting in the citizen sector? How much should social businesses report about their struggles?


Robert Katz said...

David - thanks for the post. How much is OneRoof like Drishtee? What do you think are its biggest challenges? Is it doing too much too soon? I like the idea, and hope that it works, but I have my doubts...curious to hear your analysis.

David Stoker said...

My understanding is that they are trying to append a host of essential services including healthcare and agricultural services to a Drishtree-like technology center. Perhaps hoping to use the draw of an internet cafe to create a base of loyal customers and an atmosphere of trust and then calling in additional key service providers (could be government health insurance recruiters, private clinicians, vendors of agricultural technologies, etc.) to engage a captive audience.

It has been six months since heard their representative speak and they do not provide substantial updates on their website so I do not have a good sense of the challenges they are currently facing.

I would suspect a couple challenges:

1. Appropriate targeting to different segments of the population. For example if their goal is to improve health in the area then they would want to give special attention to getting mothers with children under 5 into their doors. But such a population is not the natural population that will be drawn to OneRoof which I would expect to be a younger predominately male crowd drawn by the technology. They will have to devise creative strategies to get mothers, the elderly, farmers, young girls into their shops.

2. The balance between brands of OneRoof and the partners they invite to operate under their roof. Sadly it would be an issue of pride but how to share credit and decisions for the delivery of services. Some well-established service providers would not want to work 'under' OneRoof, nor would OneRoof want to be pushed aside by larger, more established organizations or having to modify their vision to satisfy their partners.

3. Another problem I can see down the road as they slowly transition ownership to individual franchisees is- is the brand powerful enough to keep franchise owners spending their resources to provide services that do not necessarily benefit the bottom line?

Those would be some of the issues that I would be interested in following. But, like you, I like the idea and hope it works, I look forward to hearing updates.

David House said...
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